Choosing a Right Freight Forwarder

How do importers/exporters identify and select the right international freight forwarder?

To start with, the size of your company shouldn’t determine the size of your freight forwarder (size of of your freight forwarder is defined as a combination of volume shipped, revenues and # of employees). Many large companies use small freight forwarders and many small companies use large freight forwarders. Therefore there are many other questions that must be answered and other criteria analyzed to conclude which freight forwarder is right for you and your company.

Prepare yourself with the below questions before Contacting a Freight Forwarder:

  1. What are my incoterms with my supplier or my buyer? At what point does my responsibility and liability of the cargo begin or end?
  2. What mode of service do I need? Do I need port to port, port to door, door to port, or door to door services?
  3. What is the origin address of the cargo, what is the final destination?
  4. What is the size/weight/dimensions/value of my cargo? What is the value?
  5. Is my shipment considered oversized or out of gauge?
  6. Depending on the mode of transport: what size ocean container, what volume of air cargo, or size domestic cargo will I be shipping?
  7. How is my cargo packaged? Do I need additional packing/loading services?
  8. Is my cargo considered hazardous? If so, do I have the MSDS, which is required by my freight forwarder?
  9. Is there any sort of import or export license required for the import or export of my cargo depending on the commodity and ultimate destination of the cargo? If so, do I know how to apply for that license?
  10. Will I need any special services such as: documentary services such as document attestation or legalization services, drop and pull of a container (container left overnight at supplier), customs clearance and duties paid, fish & wildlife license, prior notice, annual bond for imports, consolidation of cargo, deconsolidation or any other type of additional service?
  • Keep the P.O. & P.I. ready
  • Your Incoterm should be clearly mentioned to the Freight Forwarder
  • You should be clear about the following:
  1. Port of Discharge
  2. Destination Port
  3. How to handle the cargo at Destination Port
  4. Who shall clear the Cargo at the Destination Port?
  5. Who is your Consignee / the receiver at the Destination Port.

Now ask the following to the Freight Forwarding Company or agent you have invited:

  1. Understand your internal requirements – know what you specifically will need before you even begin looking for a forwarder. Determine what mode of transport and what specific services you will need and what volume you plan to ship before contacting a forwarder. This is the “help me help you” part that the forwarder may say to you if you don’t come prepared.
  2. Find the Details of your Freight Forwarding Compant – know what your forwarder can and cannot do for you. Know what you are responsible for and what they are responsible for. Read various blogs, regulations, industry terms, international treaties and anything else required for your shipments. What area of logistics do you really need?
  3. Are they a member of any trade associations or freight forwarding networks? Joining reputable freight forwarding associations requires financial strength, operational efficiency, integrity and many other requirements. If a freight forwarder is a member of a reputable association, the chances of them handling your shipment with care and diligence is higher than if they were not a member
  4. How will they manage your operations/shipment? This relates to who will be your point of contact for submitting documents, coordinating the shipment and who to ask for when there is a problem. This may all be one person who is dedicated to handling your shipment A-Z or several people, each with defined responsibilities for your account. Will communication updates be via telephone, email or automatic web tracking?
  5. Ask if they have a network of agents in your destination country – this can be vital for any DDU, DAP, DDP shipments and also if your customer overseas has any unforeseen issues such as a port strike, customs issue or other delay. Their destination agent can help smooth out many of these issues.
  6. Put together a checklist of requirements – this includes everything from your time frame on when you want to begin, objectives such as speed of delivery, commodities being shipped, special packaging requirements, terms of sale (incoterms), volume, etc.
  7. Do they have multiple service contracts – this is important when space availability on a vessel, airline or trucking company becomes an issue and you need an alternative. For example, do they only have a relationship with Maersk, Turkish Airlines, or SAIA? Or do they have relationships with multiple ocean, air, land carriers?
  8. Does the freight forwarder have cargo insurance – This is important as they should be able to issue insurance policies for your shipments in case of theft, damage, or loss.


  • The above is only an indicative list.
  • There is much more to the Shipping industry.